||This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (November 2013)|
|Studio album by Public Image Ltd|
|Released||23 November 1979|
|Producer||Public Image Ltd|
|Public Image Ltd chronology|
|Second Edition Cover|
|Singles from Metal Box|
Metal Box is the second album by Public Image Ltd, released by Virgin Records on 23 November 1979. It was reissued as Second Edition in 1980. The album was a departure from PiL's relatively conventional debut First Issue, released in 1978, with the band moving into a more avant-garde sound characterised by John Lydon's cryptic vocals, Jah Wobble's propulsive dub-inspired basslines, and the abrasively "metallic" guitar sound developed by guitarist Keith Levene.
Metal Box was recorded in several sessions with several different drummers, none of whom were credited on the original release. "Albatross" and "Swan Lake"/"Death Disco" were recorded with new drummer David Humphrey at The Manor Studio in Shipton-on-Cherwell. "Poptones" was recorded with Levene on drums. During this time, additional tracks were recorded at Townhouse Studios in London, namely "Beat the Drum for Me" (which later turned up on Wobble's first solo album), and a new version of "Fodderstompf" (which became the B-side of PiL's "Death Disco" 12" single). Humphrey left the band around mid-May 1979. "Memories", "No Birds", "Socialist" and "Chant" were recorded with new drummer Richard Dudanski at Townhouse Studios in London. The instrumental "Graveyard" was recorded at Rollerball Rehearsal Studios in Bermondsey, PiL's rehearsal studio, with Dudanski. For the B-side of PIL's "Memories" single vocals were added at The Manor and the track re-titled to "Another". Dudanski left the band around mid-September 1979. "The Suit" was recorded as a solo track by Jah Wobble at Gooseberry Sound Studios in London. Vocals and some overdubs were added at The Manor. "Careering" was recorded at Townhouse Studios with Wobble on drums."Bad Baby" was recorded with new drummer Martin Atkins at Townhouse Studios. Except for a brief period during 1980, Atkins remained with the band until 1985. "Radio 4" was recorded as a solo piece by Keith Levene at Advision Studios and an unknown second studio. According to Levene, this was the last recorded track. Levene utilized aluminum Veleno guitars throughout the recording sessions to achieve a distinctively sharp and metallic guitar sound.
The title of the album refers to its original packaging, which consisted of a metal 16mm film canister embossed with the band's logo and containing three 12" 45rpm records. It was designed by Dennis Morris and was innovative and inexpensive, costing little more to the label than the cost of standard printed sleeves for equivalent 12" releases (although Virgin did ask for a refund of 1/3 of the band's advance due to the cost). Before the metal tin was finalised, there was discussion of the album being released in a sandpaper package that would effectively ruin the sleeve art of any records shelved next to it. That idea would later be realised by the Durutti Column for their 1980 Factory Records debut, The Return of the Durutti Column.
The album's lack of accessibility extended to the discs themselves. Packed tightly inside the canister and separated by paper sheets, they were difficult to remove, and were prone to being nicked and scratched in the process. Since each side only contained about ten minutes of music, the listener was required to frequently change sides to hear the complete album.
Deleted from the catalogue on 23 November 1979 after an initial release of 60,000 units, the album was re-issued on 22 February 1980 as Second Edition, a double LP packaged in a more conventional gatefold. The sleeve art of Second Edition consists of distorted photographs of the band members, achieving a funhouse mirror effect. (The front cover is a photo of Keith Levene.) The lyrics are printed on the rear cover; these were originally printed in a magazine advertisement and not included with Metal Box. The band initially wanted the album released with a lyric sheet but no track titles; the United Kingdom version of Second Edition appears as the band intended, with lyrics on the back cover, but no titles, and "PiL" logo labels on all four sides of the vinyl. The US edition of Second Edition has track titles both on the back cover and the labels.
A unique anomaly exists on the US vinyl LP of Second Edition: although PiL were signed to Warner Bros. Records in the US, the album was released with the Island Records logo on the sleeve and labels, albeit with a Warner Bros. catalogue number (2WX 3288). The American 8-track tape and cassette versions of Second Edition carry only the Warner Bros. logo, with no mention of Island.
The original metal canister idea was used a few years later during the compact disc era; by the late 1980s a number of CDs were packaged in metal canisters, including Prince's special edition of the Batman soundtrack. In 1990 the concept came full circle, with the compact disc release of Metal Box employing a smaller version of the original metal canister, containing a single disc and a small paper insert.
- John Lydon (1980/2004): "We almost threw that away." "Things like 'Albatross' are done live. I'd free-form, I just free-formed, we all did, and that's how it should be when the mood is right."
- Keith Levene (2001): "We got it off in one take, it happened as you hear it [...] I didn't know John had these words. I made up that tune as I went along, Wobble made up what he did as he went along [...] We all looked at each other, and I said 'We've got this, haven't we? Sounds like The Doors, doesn't it? Let's keep it!'"
- David Humphrey (drummer, 2004): "It was straight down The Manor in Oxfordshire and straight into recording. I remember doing a lot of stuff, stuff from the original PIL album, and also some additional tracks like 'Death Disco' – or 'Swan Lake' as it was known at the time – and 'Albatross'."
- Keith Levene (2001): "There's this normal Spanish guitar thing that goes dun-da-da-dun da-da-dun. That's what I'm playing, it's one of the first things I learned to play on guitar, very simple. I was very fond of that. I totally knew what the fuck John was singing about [...] All I'm doing when I'm playing those notes over the top: I just had the guitar going through an Electric Mistress."
"Swan Lake"/"Death Disco":
- John Lydon (1987): "When I had to deal with my mother's death, which upset the fuck out of me, I did it partly through music. I had to watch her die slowly of cancer for a whole year. I wrote 'Death Disco' about that. I played it to her just before she died and she was very happy. That's the Irish in her, nothing drearily sympathetic or weak. Like her you've got to really get to grips with your emotions and attack them, confront them head on. You won't solve things any other way. It works for me, I can't run away from things."
- Keith Levene (2001): "We booked a place in Brixton which was just an empty hall just to test this three-bass sound system, that was a turbo rig that I wanted to use at the Rainbow. Because we were in sound system situations, we were making up new tunes – that's when 'Death Disco' was emerging [...] One tune we definitely had was 'Death Disco', cause we worked that with Jim but we didn't record him [...] I didn't know what he was singing about at the time [...] I realised that this tune that I was bastardising by mistake was 'Swan Lake', so I started playing it on purpose but I was doing it from memory. You can hear that I'm not playing it exactly right. It just worked [...] There's a few versions of that. The one on 'Metal Box' is version two, which is very different from the simpler, original [12-inch] version."
- John Lydon (1979/99): "It's straight out of the Daily Mirror, so I can't guarantee its authenticity." "This was another newspaper story which fascinated me. A girl bundled blindfolded into the back of a car by a couple of bad men and driven off into a forest, where they eventually dumped her. The men had a cassette machine with an unusual tune on the cassette, which they kept playing over and over. The girl remembered the song, and that, along with her recollection of the car and the men's voices, is how the police identified them. The police eventually stopped the car and found the cassette was still in the machine, with the same distinctive song on the tape."
- Keith Levene (2001/02/04): "I think 'Poptones' was one of the first things we recorded [...] That's our second attempt at that [...] Basically, for me, the track goes on too fucking long." "I was playing 'Starship Trooper' the other day and I thought fuck me, that is exactly what I'm doing in 'Poptones'!" "[The guitar part] is totally ripped off from 'Starship Trooper', but I didn't do it on purpose."
- Jah Wobble (2004/09): “I still see that tune as the jewel in the PIL crown [...] That line is as symmetrical as a snowflake. To give him his due Levene went mental for it. We were at The Manor. We had a drummer [David Humphrey] with us who was pretty good – he played on one of my solo tracks ['Beat the Drum For Me'] – but the bloke just couldn't get the right feel for 'Poptones' [...] In the end Levene put the drums down on that track, his drums are a bit loose, but that is actually a good thing [...] I think the lyrics to 'Poptones', in part at least, refer to a journey we took in Joe the roadie's Japanese car out around the country lanes of Oxfordshire [...] Joe had one of his dodgy cassettes playing." "I don't know if John is aware that the geezer driving the Nissan in question went on to do well in the computer games lark."
- Jah Wobble (1980/2009): "'Careering' is basically about Northern Ireland, a gunman who is careering as a professional businessman in London." “It was at Townhouse that we did 'Careering', which is my second favourite track from 'Metal Box' and probably my favourite John Lydon vocal performance [...] If you listen to the drum rhythm it is very similar to the sort of rhythm a drum and fife band would create [...] By now Keith had got hold of a Prophet synth, he used that on 'Careering'."It was a session where I really took control. I've done the drum track and I'm laying the bassline down, and Keith has his synth and is making textures, and John was really up for it that night. That was a quick night."
- Keith Levene (2001): “When you went to the toilet, you went downstairs and there was this noise from a machine like nrrrrrrrrr, like you hear on the song [...] That noise was always there. I had to see if I could make the noise on the synth. I pretty much got it off, I dropped something on the key to keep it going."
"No Birds"/"No Birds Do Sing":
- John Lydon (1999): "'No Birds Do Sing' is a line from a poem by Keats. I just borrowed a bit of it because it suited this particular rant about suburbia."
- Keith Levene (2001/02): "One of my favourite tunes on 'Metal Box'." "All that it is is me playing the guitar part and duplicating it, but feeding the second one through this effect I'd set up on the harmoniser. Meanwhile John is lying under the piano and singing that weird feedback voice, while twinkling the keys at the same time, just to be annoying. You can hear the piano on the record."
- Richard Dudanski (drummer, 2004/07): "Keith did know me from The 101ers and just rang up and said 'We're recording at the Townhouse, can you get over here?' And in fact the next ten days we recorded like five songs, the tape was just left running [...] I think the first day we did 'No Birds Do Sing' and 'Socialist', then we did 'Chant', 'Memories'." "From that first session – we crawled out of the studio twelve hours later – we put down 'No Birds Do Sing' and started working on other rhythm tracks."
- Jah Wobble (2009): "[Richard Dudanski] made extensive and imaginative use of the toms, which really suited compositions like 'No Birds' and 'Socialist'."
- Jah Wobble (1980): “It's a perfect rhythm. You can put anything over it and mix it in so many different ways.”
- Keith Levene (2001): "[The guitar part] was made up on the spot. I was in a very Clint Eastwood mood. I didn't know what I was going to play. Wobble's playing the bassline and drums are playing so I had to do something. The way it worked was, there wasn't a vocal on it at first. The version on 'Metal Box' doesn't have vocals but there's a version of it that does and called something else ['Another']."
- Richard Dudanski (drummer, 2004): "We later used a studio down in Bermondsey, can't remember the name, where we did the bass and drums for 'Another'."
- John Lydon (1980): "People of low origins trying to be posh."
- Keith Levene (2001/04): "It was never one of my favourite pieces because of what it was really about [...] There was this guy that was an old mate of John's who lived in this apartment. At some point John decided he hated his guts. He just wrote this really nasty, finger-pointing, over-exaggerated, ripping parody of what the guy was – 'Society boy' [...] This guy, [fashion designer] Kenny MacDonald, made his suit and all of ours and it made him look good to have the guys from PIL wearing his stuff. We'd wear it wrong and it looked even better, we didn't want the black leather jacket look like these punk bands. So John just decided to hate this guy, that's what happens and there's nothing you can do. He wouldn't be his lapdog and John thought he was a star and wanted that." "There's certain tunes that I just can't stand. 'The Suit' – I hate it." "On 'The Suit', whilst it fades out you can hear John fucking around on the piano. Could he play piano? No, of course not – he used to do it to annoy us, but the fact that he couldn't play didn't matter."
- Jah Wobble (2009): "I did the drums and piano." “I gave PIL my backing tracks, like 'The Suit' for instance. That started out as 'Blueberry Hill'. I recorded it at Gooseberry and took it up to The Manor." “I had worked on that track at Gooseberry with Mark Lusardi. I had put the lyrics to 'Blueberry Hill' over that, however, I thought that it was also a must for PIL [...] John freaked out when he heard that [...] He was galvanised into action and within a few hours 'The Suit' existed."
- Keith Levene (1980/2001/04): “I'm known as 'Bad Baby'.” "I'm 'Bad Baby', that's one of my nicknames." "The track 'Bad Baby' had an intensity – those lyrics are about me!"
- Martin Atkins (drummer, 2001/02/07): "I went to the Townhouse, I think Genesis and Queen were there during the day, and PIL were recording at night. I spoke to Jeannette for a while, John said hello, probably 'Fuck off, you Northern git', and someone said 'There's the drums over there', and I just went and did 'Bad Baby' then and there [...] We wrote it together, that was my audition." "Studio A at the Townhouse to someone who was 19 looked big like a basketball court, with a mixing desk at the other end. They said 'Oh, here's that Northener', you know, and then they said 'There's the drum kit, go and do something.' I just sat down and did it, played 'Bad Baby', with Jah Wobble playing along." “I walked in to comments like 'Here’s that Northern git' and we wrote 'Bad Baby'. Then I went back to my job working for the government as a clerical officer in St Martin’s Place.”
- Jah Wobble (2009): "I love his vocal melody line on that track, Augustus Pablo would have loved that melody. Anyway, Martin Atkins had checked a lot of disco out and that resulted in him having a good hi-hat technique and okay timekeeping. My bass playing on 'Bad Baby' was inspired by the style of a bass player called Cecil McBee."
- Keith Levene (2004): “I remember doing 'Socialist' – I'd just bought these cheap synths, so me and Wobble were really having fun fucking around with these things, whilst submerged in the mix was this huge soaring sound, rising upwards from the drum and the bass, like a whale's cry [...] Later on I dubbed up the cymbals, so you have that spiralling metallic sound. Dubwise!"
- Jah Wobble (2009): "At the time I was a bit of a socialist." “I'd just thought it to be good to call it 'Socialist' [...] I hated Thatcher, I hated everything Reagan stood for to be quite honest, you know, and at that time I just wanted that old-style, left-wing socialism."
- John Lydon (1980): "Yes, 'Chant' is great, it's like an old English ditty with a string synthesiser."
- Richard Dudanski (drummer, 2004): “In the next couple of weeks after my first joining we also recorded 'Chant', 'Memories' and 'Socialist', all recorded at the Townhouse [...] I suppose 'Chant' is my favourite – with volume turned up to the max of course!"
- Keith Levene (2001): "[Wobble] didn't do the bassline in 'Radio 4'. I played it as if it was Wobble playing [...] We ended up in another studio, Advision, and I recorded this track with Ken Lockie from Cowboys International. Originally it had me on drums. Ken laid down the dun-dun-dun on piano, he could play these great chords with his big hands where I used synths to put something across. We didn't like the studio and John didn't like Ken, so that was his brief appearance as a possible PIL candidate. Ken did this one session, with just me there. So I was at another studio and we put this on. I had a Yamaha String Ensemble where you could make it sound like so many things, but it wasn't huge. I was using this thing and I start building it up, all I'm doing is taking different sounds from this thing and layering it. When I heard it, I pulled the drums out. I got on the idea of trying to make it sound orchestrated with the long chords played shorter. To get round the other stuff, I just used what was at hand. I played bass like I imagined Wobble would play bass to it, I wanted a Wobble feel to it. But basically, it's all me – that's when I realised I can completely do everything. You just hear the drums at the end [...] I called it 'Radio 4' because in England, you got Radio One, Two, Three, Radio One played pop tunes. Before that, the BBC was so boring! It took until about 1985 before we had FM radio." "With 'Radio 4', I was just alone in the studio one night, and I was overwhelmed with the sense of space. I just took everything out of the studio, moved the drum kit out and played everything myself, reproducing this sense of cold spaciousness I felt around me. That was me playing the bass, I played what I thought people would identify as a Wobble bassline. But it was my pattern."
|Drowned in Sound||10/10|
Metal Box is now considered a post-punk classic, and is very critically acclaimed. Allmusic gave it a five star rating, saying "PIL managed to avoid boundaries for the first four years of their existence, and Metal Box is undoubtedly the apex" and that it "hardly [sounds] like anything of the past, present, or future". The reviewer, Andy Kellman, also compared it to the works of Captain Beefheart and Can. Drowned in Sound also gave it a perfect score, with reviewer Mark Ward stating "it tears away from Lydon's sweaty punk roots and into the cold chambers of dub evoked by Can, the more outré electronics of Bowie's Berlin years and the coruscating post-punk sound that guitarist Levene was in the process of pioneering" and that "if you don't yet have a copy, you really should".
In 2003, the album was inducted into Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list at No. 469, the magazine calling it "eerie, futuristic art punk with dub bass and slashing guitar". In 2002, Pitchfork Media ranked Metal Box at No. 19 on its "Top 100 Albums of the 1980s". It was also, along with their debut album, included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, with the reviewer Stevie Chick saying "the abrasive textures and powerful sounds they discovered...would influence all manner of experimental music for decades to come", while describing it as "cold dank, unforgiving, subterranean." The songs Albatross, Poptones, Careering, Chant and Radio 4 were selected as "key tracks".
All words, music and production credited to Public Image Ltd.
- The original track listing put "Socialist", "Chant" and "Radio 4" as one song.
- On the Second Edition re-release, "Socialist" is put before "Graveyard", and the last three tracks are split up.
- Second Edition puts the whole album onto four sides of vinyl, whereas the original release used six.
- "No Birds" is sometimes listed as "No Birds Do Sing"
- John Lydon – vocals, piano (9)
- Keith Levene – guitar, synthesizers, drums (4, 12), bass guitar (12)
- Jah Wobble – bass guitar (except 12), drums (5, 8), piano
- David Humphrey – drums (1, 3)
- Richard Dudanski – drums (2, 6, 7, 10, 11)
- Martin Atkins – drums (9)
Note: Levene played all instruments on "Radio 4".
- The original limited edition of "Metal Box" entered the UK albums chart, where it stayed for 8 weeks and reached No. 18 on 8 December 1979.
- The re-release edition of "Second Edition" briefly entered the UK albums chart, where it stayed for 2 weeks and reached No. 46 on 8 March 1980.
- The single "Death Disco" entered the UK Top 75, where it stayed for 7 weeks and reached No. 20 on 7 July 1979.
- The single "Memories" briefly entered the UK Top 75, where it stayed for 2 weeks and reached No. 60 on 20 October 1979.
- The album "Second Edition" did not enter the Billboard 200 album charts.
- No singles were released from the album in the USA.
- In New Zealand, both "Metal Box" and "Second Edition" briefly entered the Top 50 Albums Chart. "Metal Box" entered the chart for 1 week at No. 21 on 23 March 1980, "Second Edition" stayed in the chart for 2 weeks and reached No. 28 on 30 March 1980.
- Reynolds, Simon (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-21570-6.
- "Record News". NME (London, England: IPC Media): 4. 10 November 1979.
- rolling stone 500 best albums Metal Box Entry
- Metal Box Stories from John Lydon's Public Image Limited, book by Phil Strongman, published by Helter Skelter, ISBN 978-1-900924-66-5
- Reynolds, Simon: "Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984", page 216. Penguin Press, 2005.
- Marcus, Greil (29 May 1980). "PiL box". Rolling Stone (Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.) (318): 53.
- "PiL Chronology 1980". Fodderstompf. Retrieved 20 July 2011.
- Scott Isler: “Fear and Loathing on the West Coast” (Trouser Press, USA, June 1980)
- Scott Murphy: “John Lydon Interview” (Fodderstompf.com website January 2004)
- Jason Gross: “Keith Levene Interview by Jason Gross, Part 2 of 4” (Perfect Sound Forever website, May 2001)
- Jack Barron: “I Cry Alone” (New Musical Express, 10 October 1987)
- PIL's London debut concerts (25 & 26 December 1978)
- Vivien Goldman: "The Meaning Behind the Moaning" (Melody Maker 8 December 1979)
- John Lydon liner notes (Public Image Ltd.: "Plastic Box" compilation, Virgin Records, 1999)
- Simon Reynolds: "Albatross Soup" (The Wire December 2002)
- Jenny Knight: “Killer Cuts...” (Guitar Magazine May 2004)
- Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, pages 108–109)
- Jah Wobble liner notes (Jah Wobble: “I Could Have Been a Contender” compilation, Trojan Records, 2004)
- Peter Noble: “Jah Wobble of PIL” (Impulse magazine, Toronto, May 1980)
- Simon Reynolds: "Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews” (Soft Skull Press, 2009, page 20)
- Clinton Heylin: "Babylon's Burning – From Punk to Grunge" (Canongate 2007, page 466)
- Scott Murphy: “Richard Dudanski Interview” (Fodderstompf.com website May 2004)
- Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, pages 111–112)
- Kris Needs: "Bass Culture" (ZigZag June 1980)
- Rollerball Rehearsal Studios (75–81 Tooley Street, London SE1), PIL's rehearsal studio had a small 4-track recording studio
- Jason Gross: “Keith Levene Interview by Jason Gross, Part 4 of 4” (Perfect Sound Forever website, September 2001)
- Greg Whitfield: “Looking For Something” (3:AM Magazine website, May 2004)
- Mike Routhier: “Longplaya Show – Metal Box 30th Anniversary” (Pirate Cat Radio 87.9 FM, San Francisco, 1 March 2009)
- Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, pages 116–117)
- Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, page 104)
- Chris Bohn: “The PIL Corp to Cease Trading?” (New Musical Express, 5 July 1980)
- Scott Murphy: “Martin Atkins Interview” (Fodderstompf.com website December 2001)
- Phil Strongman: “John Lydon’s Metal Box – The Story Of Public Image Ltd.” (Helter Skelter, 2007, page 101)
- Jean Encoule: “Martin Atkins – The Boy Looked at Johnny” (Traxmarx.com website July 2002)
- Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, page 111)
- Simon Reynolds: "Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews” (Soft Skull Press, 2009, page 22)
- Alfred Hilsberg: “Public Image Ltd. – Wir sind keine Rock 'n' Roll Band!” (Sounds magazine, Germany, April 1980)
- Kellman, Andy. "Second Edition – Public Image Ltd. : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Robert Christgau. "Robert Christgau: CG: Public Image Ltd". Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Ward, Mark (8 December 2009). "Public Image Ltd – Metal Box (Remastered) / Releases / Releases // Drowned in Sound". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Sheffield, Rob (15 November 2006). "Metal Box : Album Reviews : Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Kellman, Andy. "Allmusic review". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Ward, Mark (8 December 2009). "DrownedinSound Review". Drownedinsound.com. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- "Rolling Stone 500 Best Albums Entry". Rollingstone.com. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- "Pitchfork Feature: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s". Pitchfork.com. 20 November 2002. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- 1001 albums you must hear before you die (2008 edition) Dimery, Robert page 442
- "Original Release + Credits". Discogs.com. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- "second edition tracklisting". Discogs.com. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- http://www.bluedrums.co.uk David Humphrey
- Theofficialcharts.com website
- Charts.org.nz website
- Fodderstompf: Metal Box Discography (Extensive information on Metal Box from Fodderstompf PiL fansite)
- Fodderstompf: Metal Box Review (Review, plus additional info, links & images from Fodderstompf PiL fansite)